GameChangers: NFL Week 6
Momentum is huge in football, and often effects the outcome of games. There are key plays that change momentum that are very subtle and may not make the highlight package on your favorite sports show. Sure, these shows do a great job of showing incredible catches, hits, and runs, or of showing you the scoring plays in a game, but do they really tell the whole story?
While a drive might end in a 5-yard TD pass or a 10-yard TD run, is that really the key play in a 7, 8, 9 or 10 play drive? Would the scoring play even be possible without the key completion on third and long earlier in the drive? Or that receiver who made a key block freeing up the running back to get to the outside to pick up a first down?
The purpose of this column is to highlight some key plays that greatly effected the outcome of their games, yet they might not have made highlight reels. This isn’t to take away from the importance of a big scoring play or turnover, but without these plays the highlight reel play would not have happened.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans (Baron Batch 1 yard loss)
The game was tied at 23 with under a minute to play and the Steelers were driving for the go ahead score. The Steelers had not run effectively all game long, with only 56 yards rushing as a team. The Steeler offence was relying on Big Ben’s arm, and this late drive was no different, as the team was looking for the game winning score and had mainly relied on Roethlisberger to get them there. The Steelers took the ball down to the Tennessee 35 yard line, which is close to Steeler kicker Sean Suisham’s range, but is really borderline. He really would be a lot more comfortable with 5 more yards or so. On 2nd and 6 the Steelers called a running play, and Baron Batch was stuffed in the backfield, losing a yard on the play. The Steelers wouldn’t gain another yard. After an incomplete pass by Roethlisberger, Suisham came out to try a 54 yard field goal. The kick landed short, and replays show it was just 1 yard short. That one yard loss running the ball was difference in the game as the Titans took advantage of the good field position that occurs on a missed field goal, and would drive down the field for a game winning kick of their own.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets (Joe McKnight long run)
The Jets were up 21 -6 late in the third quarter when our big play took place. Some might think the Jets had the game in hand, and while the score board showed a two score lead, the Jets offence was starting to sputter and it looked like Indy might have an opportunity to get back in the game. The last two Jets’ drives had been 3 and outs, meanwhile Indy was starting to put plays together but just couldn’t get it into the endzone. It certainly looked like momentum could be shifting. At this point the Jets brought in their backup RB, and kick returner Joe McKnight into the game. Sanchez handed off to him, and the Jets line created a huge hole on the left side. Joe McKnight found the hole and was quickly into the second level of the Colts defence. He turned on the afterburners and took off for 61 yards down the sideline setting up the Jets first and goal at the 6 yard line. Two plays later Shonn Greene was in the endzone, one of his three TDs on the game. The talk in New York has been all about Sanchez vs Tebow, but this is a team that should be about getting more touches for Greene and McKnight. Greene is a their workhorse back, and McKnight can be very explosive if he gets the ball in space.
Dallas Cowboys @ Baltimore Ravens (Penalties!)
The Cowboys had cut the Ravens lead to just 1 point as it was 24 – 23 in the fourth quarter of this game. The Ravens methodically moved the ball down the field, and eventually got to a 3rd and goal at the Cowboys 1 yard line. The ‘Boys defence appeared to have the Ravens stopped, and it was going to be a tough decision, but it was likely that John Harbaugh would opt for the field goal and 4 point lead. However there was a flag on the play, and Dallas was penalized for lining up in the neutral zone on the play. The half the distance to the goalline was ultimately yardage that didn’t really matter, but the big thing here is that it gave the Ravens another shot at third down and goal. Baltimore would take full advantage as Ray Rice punched it in for the touchdown and the Ravens took an 8 point lead. The Cowboys would get a late TD from Dez Bryant, but Bryant would drop the 2 point conversion attempt to tie the game. Without the penalty, the Ravens would have only had a four point lead, and they wouldn’t have needed the two points. Still the game wasn’t over and The Cowboys were lucky to recover the on-side kick and get another attempt at it. The Ravens would survive when Dan Bailey hooked his 51 yard field goal try wide right. Some will blame Bryant for dropping the two pointer, others will put the goat horns on Dan Bailey, but lets not forget that penalties were huge in this game, and the extra 4 points the Cowboys gifted the Ravens loom large in this outcome. Mike and I say it every week, those penalties will kill you every time.
Oakland Raiders @ Atlanta Falcons (Tony Gonzalez has still got it)
Surprisingly we had a tie game here with just 12 seconds left. Atlanta had the ball on their own 40 and it looked like the Falcons would need a long pass to either Roddy White or Julio Jones to get the ball into field goal range for Matt Bryant. The Raiders, well aware of the situation, had Julio Jones and Roddy White double covered. At this point Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez took over. Instead of going deep, Ryan hit Gonzalez with two quick passes, 1 for 10 yards and 1 for 13 yards, getting both completions down in 11 seconds and giving Bryant a chance to kick the game winner with 1 second left. Bryant has been money all season, and once again he delivered in the clutch allowing the Falcons to go to 6 and 0. The Greatest Tight End of this generation, and maybe of all time is still effective and still making big plays for Atlanta.
Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles (big sacks of Vick in OT)
Another tie game, and we were headed to OT at the Linc. The Eagles won the toss and got the ball first in Overtime, after a decent return they started at their own 25 yard line.
Michael Vick dropped back to pass and was sacked by Cliff Avril on first down. On second down Vick dropped back to pass again. Facing huge pressure he scrambled backwards but the Lions stayed after him and he was sacked by Nick Fairley. Suddenly it was 3rd and 31 at the Philly 4 yard line. Vick would throw incomplete, the Eagles would punt from the back of their own end zone and the Lions would start at midfield, needing just a Field goal to win. After a couple passes to Tony Scheffler and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, the Lions had Jason Hanson kicking the game winning field goal.
Buffalo Bills @ Arizona Cardinals (Chan Gailey’s Questionable Coaching) Late in the fourth quarter the Bills were down the field with just 3:00 left and a 3 point lead. The team was running the ball very well, especially CJ Spiller, and had a chance to put the game away and run out most of the clock on this drive. Another score would be huge, and while a touchdown would put the game out of reach, even a field goal would have made things difficult on the Cardinals. The advantage of running down the clock should also be noted. So what did the Bills do? They went Wildcat and had Brad Smith try to throw a 35 yard bomb to Donald Jones.. The play was poorly designed as Jones and Stevie Johnson were both going down the right side on “go routes” meaning that there were three Cardinal defensive backs in the area. Smith overthrew the ball and it was intercepted by Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals would go down the field and a 61 yard field goal by Jay Feely would tie the game. The Bills would ultimately survive when Feely hit the goal post on a 38 yarder, and a Jarius Byrd interception set up a game winning kick by Rian Lindell in overtime, but it didn’t need to be this close and it was a terrible play call by Chan Gailey.
New England Patriots @ Seattle Seahawks (uncharacteristic mistake by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady) At the end of the first half the Patriots had the ball down at the Seattle 3 yard line with 12 seconds left and a 17-10 lead. Tom Brady tried to get the TD, his first down pass to Rob Gronkowski was well covered and Seattle broke it up leaving 6 seconds on the clock. Most teams would kick the field goal at this point, to ensure that time wouldn’t run out on them on the next play. However the Pats would try one more play to get the TD. Seattle got good pressure and Brady threw the ball incomplete out of the endzone. However the play took too long and time ran out, meaning that New England wouldn’t get the opportunity to kick the short Field Goal and give New England a two score lead at the break. Seattle would go on to win the game by 1 point in a thrilling second half comeback that culminated in a fantastic pass from Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice. Don’t get me wrong, this mistake isn’t the sole reason the Patriots lost, as there was still an entire half of football to play, but the Pats might still be kicking themselves for leaving those points on the board before halftime.
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